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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Pop On Over

Fasten your seat belts, it's time for holiday family food gatherings.  The good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between. Don't get me wrong, I adore the warmth, fun, and drama that comes into play during the festivities. Leading up to them? Not so much. The devil's in the details...the planning. Food is a powerful magnet. During the holidays, the force is very strong. Inevitably, during the planning process, that familiar "What can I bring?" thing always rears its head. Whether sincere, obligatory, volunteered, or assigned. it just happens. It's simply part of the family dynamic. That's when things get iffy. Sure, drinks, ice, and pies are safe bets. Can't go wrong there. It's the other stuff that really matters. The big guns. The have to haves. The must haves. The traditional stuff. Nope. Not going there. I don't want to be that guy. You know, the one who shows up with a bungled attempt of a cherished family heirloom recipe? Might as well smear giblet gravy across the stainless steel refrigerator and write "FAIL" with a buttered dinner roll.

Be careful what you ask for. One year, my family gathered for Thanksgiving in a small town in rural Ohio. I was tasked with bringing creamed onions. Simple enough, right?  Not only did I miss the meal because of a timing mishap, I forgot to bring the beloved time honored creamed onions that were, apparently, the soothing balm for a happy day. Joy.

Several years earlier, I was asked to bring bread for a family Thanksgiving meal at my father's house. Normal. Regular. Bread. Well, I couldn't leave well enough alone and decided to get all fancy pants. Now, keep in mind,  that was years before I stepped foot into a professional kitchen or classroom. Naively thinking that all breads fell under the vast umbrella of bread, I meticulously conjured up a gorgeous and highly aromatic loaf of orange bread. Brilliant, right? With hints of ginger and cirusy orange, the bread had a soft crumb and beautifully burnished crust that was somewhat reminiscent of an overly sweetened brioche.  Was it tasty? Yep. Was it the ideal sopper for puddles of turkey gravy? Hardly.

A couple of years ago, during a lakeside family get together, I slipped a layered roasted red pepper, eggplant, pesto, and goat cheese terrine onto the festive holiday food table, nestling it between a few cheese-topped casseroles. It certainly popped. I'll leave it at that. Enough said.

The learning curve never ends. Nowadays, unless a special request pops up, I tend to err on the safer side of caution.. That said, safe doesn't have to be boring.

Popovers are wonderful things. Whether baked in a traditional sense with only flour, eggs, milk, butter, and salt, or jazzed up with  a few add-ins, the airy puffs are incredibly versatile. Because they're simple to throw together, whimsical, and a wee bit flamboyant, popovers are perfect for the holidays.

Blue Cheese and Chive Popovers.
For the ultimate pop, stick to the rules.
Have everything at room temperature.
Preheat the popover pan.
Don't peek while they bake. Just don't.

After preheating the oven to 450 degrees, I sprayed a 6-cup popover pan with nonstick cooking spray, filled each cup with 1/2 teaspoon melted unsalted butter, and set it aside.

I cracked 6 large organic Elmwood Stock Farm eggs into a large mixing bowl, added 2 cups room temperature whole milk, broke the yolks, and whisked the two together until the eggs were lightly beaten.. Using a large fine mesh strainer, I sifted 2 cups Wiesenberger Mill unbleached all purpose flour and 1 teaspoon salt into the beaten eggs. After whisking the eggs and flour together for 2 minutes until they were thoroughly blended, I folded 1/2 cup snipped chives into the batter and let it rest before sliding the buttered popover pan into the oven to heat for 2 minutes. When the butter started to crackle, I pulled the popover pan from the oven, filled each cup 3/4 full with batter, and dropped 2 ounces of Boone Creek Creamery blue cheese crumbles into each popover cup.

I carefully placed the pan onto a parchment covered sheet pan, slid the pan into the oven, set the timer for 20 minutes, and let them rip before lowering the heat to 350 degrees for the final 15 minutes.

After pulling the popovers from the oven, I used a sharp paring knife to poke each popover (releasing the steam to avoid deflate-gate), and piled them onto a wire rack to cool.

To play up the subtle undertones of the melted blue cheese, I tapped into the natural pairing of fruit and cheese by tumbling the chive-flecked popovers onto a bread board alongside Quarles Farm Spiced Apple Conserve and Big Swing Farms Honey Pear Butter. After feathering salty ribbons of prosciutto to the side, I finished with thinly sliced Reeds Valley Orchard  apples and pears.


Fasten your seat belts.
And pass the bread, please.